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COVID-delayed film fest debuts online

Virtual cinema features about 70 international and local films

“Hawaiian Soul,” which explores the story of legendary Hawaiian musician and activist George Helm, is one of the Hawaii-focused films featured in the virtual Maui Film Festival that kicks off Friday. The festival usually takes place in June but was postponed due to COVID-19. — Photo courtesy of Maui Film Festival

Instead of heading to Wailea to watch a film under the stars or be ensconced in the Castle Theater, movie lovers can feast on about 70 new films from the comfort of their own couches during the virtual Maui Film Festival that launches next week.

Postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic back in June, the annual festival is debuting its Speed-of-Light Virtual Cinema from Friday through Jan. 3, an international smorgasbord that includes films from Italy, China, Spain, Brazil, Taiwan, Germany, French Polynesia, the United States and Canada.

“It’s like a big video jukebox,” said Maui Film Festival founder Barry Rivers. “We have a spectacular aggregation, with 15 Hawaii-based short films. They span the spectrum. They are upbeat and funny and heartfelt, and challenging.”

Among the highlights, Portuguese big wave surfer Joana Andrade is spotlighted in the remarkable, inspiring documentary “BIG vs SMALL.” Riding the biggest waves in the world at Nazare, Portugal, “she’s like Laird Hamilton of female surfers,” Rivers explained.

“I started out making a film about how a tiny woman conquers her biggest fears surfing the world’s biggest wave, and I ended up making a film about liberation from a traumatic experience,” Finnish director Minna Dufton noted.

Portuguese big wave surfer Joana Andrade is spotlighted in the documentary “BIG vs SMALL,” which will air at the virtual Maui Film Festival that runs Friday through Jan. 3. — Photo courtesy of Maui Film Festival

Hawaii-focused works include “Beyond the Mauna,” “Hawaiian Soul” and “38 Minutes.”

“Hawaiian Soul” is the story of legendary Hawaiian musician and activist George Helm, who helped lead the 1970s Native Hawaiian rights movement and also helped to stop the U.S. Navy’s bombing of Kaho’olawe. The film shares moments of Helm’s journey into music and activism from childhood to his adult life. Helm was only 26 years old when he and Kimo Mitchell, 25, went missing off Kaho’olawe in 1977.

“Beyond the Mauna” examines the Thirty Meter Telescope controversy through the eyes of Hawaiian elder and protest leader Noe Wong-Wilson, and astronomer Mailani Neal, who advocates for the construction of TMT. Actor Jason Momoa appears in the film.

“This film pushes the importance of indigenous peoples and their strong voices that must be heard,” director Carter Lau states.

Meanwhile, “38 Minutes” recalls the pivotal day in January 2018 when Hawaii seemed to face an imminent North Korean missile attack that turned out to be a blundered alert by state emergency officials. The film follows an ex-Navy Seal who’s awoken from a night of drinking by the missile alert and must race to save his family.

Part-time Maui resident Woody Harrelson will narrate the documentary “Kiss the Ground” during the virtual Maui Film Festival that runs Friday through Jan. 3. — Photo courtesy of Maui Film Festival

Other Hawaii-centered films include “100 Years on the Beach,” dedicated to Hawaii’s lifeguards; “The Mainland,” about an aspiring actor, Ikaika, navigating Hollywood; “Kama’aina,” about a gay teenager living on Oahu’s streets; and the mockumentary, “In Search of the Hawaiian Bigfoot — Maui Skunk Ape.”

Featured international films include the Chinese drama “Bloom,” which was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film “Wild Strawberries” and is a sumptuous looking, non-linear film that won the Jury Prize at the 2020 Vancouver Chinese Film Festival. Scenes were shot at Mount Huangshan, Lake Taiping and the ancient rural setting of Hong Village.

With interviews ranging from British comedian/actor Russell Brand to renowned meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, “Chasing the Present” follows an anxiety-prone, materially successful young man, who embarks on a worldwide journey from India’s Ganges River to Peru’s jungles to explore the root causes of the modern epidemic of stress and suffering.

From Taiwan, “Whale Island” is “a beautiful movie about a father who films the biggest whales on earth,” said Rivers. “It’s spectacular.”

The Spanish feature “Love Beats” follows a young musician who left home to study music in London, and returns to reconnect with family and friends. CinemaGavia called it, “one of the revelations of Spanish independent cinema.”

The inspiring documentary “Kiss the Ground” reveals that, by regenerating the world’s soils, humans can completely and rapidly stabilize Earth’s climate, restore lost ecosystems and create abundant food supplies. Since the 1970s, the planet has lost 33 percent of its soil worldwide through human-driven desertification. Narrated by part-time Maui resident Woody Harrelson, it won best picture at the London Independent Film Awards.

In a typical year the Maui Film Festival would have debuted an array of new movies during the summer in Wailea and at the MACC, and then headed into the Christmas season with FirstLight screenings.

But this year as the summer passed with no festival and no awards bestowed on Hollywood stars, Rivers realized the next best option was offer a virtual event.

“There’s no place on Maui you can do it inside or outside anymore, and we lost all of our locations in Wailea,” Rivers explained. “Going online was my only option. It’s actually been an incredibly creative experience. I think it’s going to be one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever done.”

When the summer festival was dropped, Rivers began contacting filmmakers offering a virtual winter venue.

“Then we made a second wave of submissions and I made a commitment to the Maui Food Bank to accept all the money we received in submissions from the second wave,” he said. “We’ve given them over $7,000.”

Filmmakers pay a fee to submit their films for consideration.

Most of the films will be available to watch between Friday and Jan. 3, but a few have geographic, date, time and/or capacity restrictions. If a film has a restriction of any kind, it will have a red banner on it that says “Limited Screening.”

Various pass options are available. A four-film pass costs $48, a 10-film pass is $100, a 20-film pass goes for $150 and a 30-film pass is $200.

To watch a program on the festival’s virtual platform, visit watch.eventive.org/mauifilm

festival. Sign into an eventive account from the menu in the upper right corner. Click on the catalog to see the selection of programs, then click on the program you want to watch and unlock it with a festival pass.

“We received 625 submissions from over 50 countries,” said Rivers. “Without leaving your home you can enjoy some beautiful and important and wise films.

I call it a make-the-world-go-away festival. ”

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